Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Garden 2009 - Spring - Update V - Sweet Potatoes

Last year, Dave and I cut up some sweet potatoes and planted the pieces in one of our garden beds. We were very excited at the end of summer to dig up our hopefully large, robust sweet potatoes. Well, when we dug them up, about the only thing they were good for was to use as replacement shoe strings :( We sort of gave up after that and planted turnips in that garden bed this year. About half way through summer, we started to see these weird green leaves coming from the turnip bed; and by the end of summer, the leaves had taken over the entire bed. Go figure, the sweet potatoes from last year had been growing and had really taken off. The picture above is our yield! For reference, the larger ones are at least 6-7" long. What a blessing to have this unexpected crop of good lookin' sweet potatoes.

(I was so inspired about it, I'm writing the sequel to the children's book "Green Eggs and Ham" entitled "Sam I Yam".......and I'm also waiting to hear back from the Broadway producers regarding my musical remake of "Anna and the King of SiYAM." Hmmmmm, not sure why I haven't heard back from them yet. Another musical I've pitched is "Yamalot." Then there's my nursery rhyme "Mary Had a Little Yam".....I got a million of 'em folks...well, four anyway.......<tap, tap>, is this thing on?)

I was excited to start using them, so I made sweet potato biscuits for our Sunday community fellowship meal. Here they are before being put into the oven. (Note to self, let the potatoes cool before mixing them into the dough. That's why these are spoon-dropped biscuits and not perfectly round):

And here they are fresh out of the oven:

We're very thankful to God for the unexpected blessing and provision of these sweet potatoes.


Sunday, December 13, 2009

A House - Update IV - Foundation Piers Complete!

Apparently, concrete doesn't cure as well in colder weather as it does when it's warmer. From what I've read, it's not ideal to pour standard concrete in "cold weather," which is defined as three consecutive days with lows and highs in the 40-50 degrees F range. And my understanding is that freezing weather is not good for the setting of new concrete. So, I've been trying to beat Winter in building our concrete piers for the foundation of our house.

Well, even though things started to cool down with the weather quite a bit, I learned there are some things you can do to allow you to go ahead and pour anyway, if the temperatures aren't too low. You can add more cement, and you can warm the concrete mixture (I suppose this is more applicable if you're having concrete delivered). You can also attempt to keep the poured concrete warm with blankets, and even heaters, if necessary.

And so, for the last several piers, I covered or wrapped them in blankets in the evening after the pour. For the upper part of the pier, I would let the piece of board holding the bolt in place remain there for two days before removing it (whereas before I was only keeping it there for one day). And then, if the sun came out, I would uncover the concrete to let the sunshine in:

Throughout building these piers, I had no trouble with the concrete tubes. On the second to the last pier, after finishing the top part and setting the bolt in place, I was cleaning up; and I turned around, and the concrete had sunk probably 3/4" down. I wondered what was happening; and when I looked, the bottom of the tube had cracked open, and the concrete was pushing out. Oh no. I didn't know what to do. Should I pull the concrete tube and try to salvage the concrete, quickly cut another tube, and put the concrete back? But I figured that was going to be difficult to even physically accomplish, and the whole area would be difficult to reset with the amount of concrete used (the tube was nearly 3' tall), among other potential problems. And so, I ran and got the duct tape and taped around the break to try to "stop the bleeding." I had to pull the pier back up to being level too and reset the wood bracing form to hold it upright. And then, I just put more concrete on top. It sank some more, and I had to add concrete again; but after that, things seemed to set. And it appears to have worked ok. Thanks to the Lord for granting that!

And with that pier done, it was on to the last pier. Here it is!

And here's me prepping it for cold weather:

This is me reading it a bedtime story from its favorite book, after tucking it in for the night:

After 38 piers, using 312 1/2 bags of concrete, all mixed with water by hand, the piers for the pier and beam foundation of our house are finished!

This is a view from the north:

And this is from the east:

We thank the Lord for granting us the provisions and strength to work on the house.

-- David

Friday, December 4, 2009

Homemade Fat Lamp - Update I

After being able to fashion a homemade fat lamp with a wick consisting of one rope of a cotton mop head, I thought it would be interesting to see if I could form a wick holder that would hold multiple rope strands so that the wick would be more similar in width to a common lamp wick, and thus produce more light.

And here is my attempt to do just that. I bent a single, elongated loop to surround the rope strands:

Well, it appeared to work pretty well, and produces quite a bit more light!

With the extra light comes extra heat, so I tied a cord around the mouth of the jar; and now it functions as a lantern:

We thank the Lord once again for granting resources and provisions to continue to learn the old paths, may He increase His light within us daily, and may we shine brightly His light to the world.

-- David

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A House - Update III - Root Cellar/Storm Shelter

Part of the house design was to have a root cellar/storm shelter in the vicinity. I wanted to have house access to it so it would be quick and convenient to be able to get into in an emergency. In thinking about designs, I had hoped to not interfere with the layout of the foundation piers as much as possible. And so, the plan was to dig out the main area of the cellar under where the porch is to be, have the landing area go between two piers, and then have the entrance way under the actual house structure; this would allow for the cellar to be covered by structure (the porch), easy entrance from within the house, and the foundation to continue to be laid out as it was without having to add piers or other modifications to it.

I decided to hire a contractor to do the digging, partially because the hole needed to be dug fairly precisely since the landing was going between the two piers, and also so I wouldn't have to deal with damage that might happen to the equipment. But, after several weeks of delay with an inattentive contractor, I decided to just rent a backhoe and do it myself.

And so, here I am starting the digging process:

Well, not more than a few feet down I hit that rock layer that I've been setting the piers on. I thought for sure I'd be able to get through it with a backhoe, but one by one the teeth caps on the backhoe bucket started to break off. I went through several before stopping. We thought about it and then came to the conclusion that it wasn't worth proceeding because more possible damage could happen; I could possibly disturb the ground under the piers, thereby potentially weakening the house structure; and we already have a root cellar/storm shelter. So I filled back in what I had already dug, and parked the backhoe.

We had to pay for the damages, but the folks from whom I rented the backhoe went out of their way to help us. We rented from iRent in Brownwood, TX, and Milt the manager there really helped us in diminishing the fees as much as possible. He was a breath of fresh air in customer service, especially given our experience with the local contractor noted above.

I lost about a month of time with all of this but have restarted the foundation building process, and here is where it is currently...only five piers left!

Thanks again to Milt at iRent for his excellent customer service; and we again thank the Lord for His graces, mercies, wisdom in and sovereign power over all circumstances.

-- David

Monday, November 9, 2009

Kids' Graduation 2009

So that they don't have any kids until after most of Winter has past, we waited to put our bucks Shatner and Eastwood with their respective does until now, as the gestation period of goats is around five months.

And so, this past Lord's Day was the time!

We put Shatner with Winnie, Betsy and Pammy (shown back to front):

And we put Eastwood with their daughters Minnie, Tapioca and Marie (shown left to right, with Eastwood between Minnie and Tappi). Any kids God graciously grants will be their first ones. They've now graduated into being a part of breeding process! (They grow up so fast! :) :

And here are Aramis and Porthos (left and right), and Donny (center), which, with Shatner being gone, are now kings of their castle:

We pray the Lord perpetuates the herd, in accordance with His will and divine wisdom; and we thank Him for the opportunity and resources to be able to set apart the goats for breeding.

-- David

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Time to Come Clean

Before Dave and I moved to Texas, we lived in a small cottage, which did not have washer/dryer facilities; so we had a laundry "date" every couple of weeks. We packed up all of our laundry and took it to my mom's for her to do (haha Mom, just kidding). No, we took it to Dave's mom's house for her to do (haha, Mom Sifford, gotcha!) But seriously folks, we took it to the local laundry mat. It was so nice to get all of our laundry washed, dried, and folded in a few hours and not have to worry about it for another couple of weeks. Then on the way home, we usually picked up some tacos from the local eatery (a romantic way of saying Taco Bell) and made a fun afternoon of it.

After we moved here to Texas, thankfully there was a local laundry mat that worked well for our needs. This time, I had the pleasure of going into town with our neighbor, Danielle, for the first several months, to do laundry together. But I knew, with our new off-grid lifestlyle and our worldview, I would need to eventually set up a system of hand washing and drying our clothes here on our homestead.

I had been drying clothes on the wonderful clothes line my mother-in-law had given me but had not yet started hand washing clothes here at home, even though the Lord had by now granted enough water to be available in our cistern. To be honest, at first, I was more than a little apprehensive about washing all of our clothes by hand. Why was it that I was so afraid of broaching this laundering method with myself when it is the way it had been done for centuries before the industrial revolution? The unknown scared me a bit and seemed overwhelming. Eventually though, I began to "scour" the internet and research all of the wash tubs to be found, and spent probably too much time searching for the "perfect" set up. In retrospect, I believe I was procrastinating and in denial. Finally, Dave and I discussed it, and realized, uh, any old tub should do the trick. So we went out and bought a few inexpensive, galvanized tubs locally, I took a deep breath, and I've been hand washing our clothes for several months now! I know, pretty anti-climactic, isn't it?

Anyway, for those of you who, like I was, might be wondering how to get started, it's pretty simple. By the time I got to washing clothes this way, Danielle had already been washing clothes by hand for some time; and she helped me a lot, and has some hand washing laundry tips and then some info about her manual laundry set up. For myself, I use four buckets: one for pre-soaking clothes, one for the main washing, and two rinse buckets. I put about six ounces of hydrogen peroxide in the main wash bucket per load of whites as my bleach (try it, it works!) and I use a splash of white vinegar in the final rinse bucket to soften the clothes. One of my other neighbors puts a bit of fabric softener in her rinse, and I might try that as well.

First I put a little laundry detergent and some water into the pre-soak bucket, along with the dirty clothes, let that set for a little while, and then transfer the pre-soaked clothes to the main wash tub:

I highly, highly recommend the Rapid Washer sold by Lehmans. If anything happened to it, I might drop on the ground sucking my thumb in the fetal position -- that is how valuable it is to my clothes washing experience (I wouldn't really do that, but you get the point :) ). The proof is in the dirty wash water, and you can get a good amount of clothes clean in a short amount of time.

I use it for about 10 minutes per load:

Time to transfer the washed clothes to the first rinse bucket:

And then onto the final rinse. Another neighbor recommended using the Rapid Washer for not only the wash cycle but the rinse cycle too, to push all the soap out of the clean clothes. I tried that, and it works really well:

We decided to invest in a commercial grade wringer, considering the anticipated heavy usage. Dave put together a sawhorse for it as a stand, and with some bracing, it works beautifully:

Last stop, clothes line:

I also began making my own laundry detergent, which saves a lot of money. You can find recipes at the website Soaps Gone Buy. The one I use most often is to grate three bars of Fels Naptha soap, and combine that with 1 1/2 cups of Arm and Hammer Washing Soda, and 1 1/2 cups of Borax. Some people use Zote soap in place of Fels Naphta. The recipe mixture works great, and costs pennies per load, using only two to three tablespoons each. As an alternative, one lady I know uses only baking soda for her wash; and her clothes look fine!

This experience has brought me another step closer to not being afraid to try new (or old, in this case) things, and to think outside the box to do whatever works best. It used to take a good chunk out of a day away from our homestead to do laundry. Now I can simply step outside when I have a free hour to do a couple of loads, while staying at home helping Dave on the homestead. It's also a step closer to less dependence on outside resources. What a blessing!

And I love working outside in the fresh air and not melting away in the stuffy laundry mat. It also provides a great time to pray or listen to a sermon or Christian audio teaching as well. (Eph. 5:15-16: "See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.")

Once again, I'm very thankful to God for allowing me to live this lifestyle, farther from the distractions of the world, so I may focus on Him, His Word and living obediently before Him.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

New Goat "Piney Tim" - Update - Name Changed to "Eastwood"

Well, because of some character traits we picked up on, and because the previous name is too much associated with Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," which celebrates Christmas in a way, which is something that we reject, thus causing us a conscience problem, and because we were probably just going to be calling him Timmy anyway, we are changing his name to Eastwood, because he seems to often give us those squinty eyes saying, "Go ahead...make my day!"

You can see it in the difference between these two pictures. You'll probably have to click on each picture (and maybe enlarge them from there) to be able to see it; but in the second one, he's giving "the look":

We probably spend a little more time than is necessary on our animals with this type of stuff (naming, etc.), but we also like to try to be cautious and consistent with what we do.

-- David

Saturday, October 17, 2009

New Goat "Piney Tim"

Although apparently inbreeding goats is a defined method for increasing a herd, we decided to use outbreeding instead, as inbreeding can bring to surface undesirable traits (as well as desirable ones, which from what I've read is why people inbreed); so our plan is to trade our males born here with other folks who are raising dairy goats. Our neighbors the Sustaires are doing just that, and the Lord had granted them twin bucks around the same time as He did our triplet bucks, which are half Nubian and half what Winnie is, which is part LaMancha. We also had Donny available, who is a little older and full Nubian. Theirs are Alpine-Nubians, and so we agreed to swap goats. They chose to take Athos, the first born of the triplets, partially because of how well Winnie is producing milk vs. how well Betsy, Donny's mother, is; and we chose the one of theirs that had horns (one of theirs was born without them) so that he could compete with our other males since we are not de-horning our goats.

Since he's part Alpine, that makes him rather "Piney," and so we decided to name him Piney Tim (we'll probably call him Timmy for short). And so here he is:

We're thankful to the Lord for allowing the perpetuation of the animals for all of the families here on the land, and for allowing us to have this opportunity with a local family to husband the animals in this outbreeding way.

-- David

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Garden 2009 - Spring - Update IV - 24 (Pint) Carrot Gold and Other Precious Commodities

Boy, if there was any doubt carrots grow well in West Central Texas, may it be forever removed. We planted carrot seeds in one entire bed this year; and, wow, the carrots took advantage of every bit of space in that bed. This blog post reflects the second round of thinning of the carrots; and I still have one, maybe two, rounds to go!

The carrots grew very densely because there was so much depth for them to grow in the double-dug, raised bed. So each pull of the greens revealed a handful of carrots:

"Ehhhhhh......what's up, doc?" Gary loves carrots. The greens, eh, not so much:

So I filled the bucket with greens knowing they would be appreciated somewhere else......

Shatner, on the other hand, loves carrot greens. (In a high-class maĆ®tre d’ French accent..."Taybelll for one, Monsieur?")

I stopped pulling carrots when the basket was fairly full, knowing this many would take several hours to prepare for canning:

What a blessing to sit out in the fresh air and sunshine to work at my "day job." I had two buckets for the initial processing of the carrots: one was for a first rinse to get the major dirt off, and the other was to give them a good scrub with the vegetable brush to get them as clean as possible:

Next, I gave them a final rinse, cut off the ends, and cut up the carrots into smaller pieces. I munched along the way and loved knowing these carrots are God's direct provision, and that any middle men and chemicals have been eliminated:

Here they are in the jars ready to go into the canner:

And, yippeeeee! Fresh garden carrots preserved to be used in many delicious dishes:

And speaking of delicious things for meals, I thought I'd provide an update on our other garden adventures.

In addition to our abundant yield of Zuchini, we were blessed with an abundance of summer squash:

We also shredded up much of the summer squash and put it in jars with salt for lactic fermentation, and placed them down in the root cellar. It tastes great - just like sauer kraut. And it makes a very flavorful and healthy salad when you add cucumber and tomato:

Our peppers are still going gangbusters. Here is a bowl of freshly cut peppers ready to be put in jars. I have found it to be very handy to grab a jar of these off the shelf and saute them with onions when I'm making fajitas. Thanks to one our readers, Ginny, we also got the idea to cut them up and dry them in our solar dryer. They are great to add into recipes, and I was very pleasantly surprised at how much taste is packed into even one of these small pieces:

Here they are ready to be canned. As I was going through the pepper plants harvesting the ripe ones, I found that a plant with smaller red and green peppers resembling chili peppers had popped up. (Imagine, if you will, what the Chili's Restaurant pepper logo looks like.) Well, I haven't been canning those because Dave likes to eat them raw here and there. HOWEVER, we have found that somehow these peppers were rubbing elbows with some of the other peppers; and sometimes when we bite into a sweet red or green pepper, we'll get a HOT surprise! So some of these jars are packed with more taste than we bargained for! :)

We planted 17 tomato plants this year hoping that we might have a successful crop; but for some reason, none of them did well at all. We have harvested probably fewer than 40 tomatoes the entire summer. Not sure what happened. But, thankfully, the local produce market was selling fresh tomatoes at a fraction of the normal price to keep them moving. We paid a whopping $5.00 for these tomatoes and got 22 quarts! Thanks to the Lord!

Hmmmmmm, then there is okra (not to be confused with Oprah). Okra and I are still getting to know each other. Coming from the West Coast, I had never eaten okra and don't believe it is on any menu I've ever seen in California. So I'm still becoming acquainted with these Southern crops. To be completely honest, okra and I have a kind of love/hate relationship. They are SO prolific, I could not keep up with them. Do you know that okra can grow to maturity in four days?! It's almost too much of a good thing. They are fibrous by nature; so if you don't catch them when they are young and tender, they can get pretty tough and stringy. However, in the canning process, they do soften up and are very edible. I only tried to fix fried okra once but had to put doing that on the back burner (no pun intended) after that until I have more time to experiment with the seasonings. For now though, we are very grateful to have several jars of nutritious okra put away in the root cellar. They're actually quite tasty when I process them with lemon juice and a little salt:

We planted a half bed of turnips this year as a kind of experiment to see how they would grow. They did very well, and we had many great salads with turnip greens. The greens are a bit misleading because the actual number of turnips that were harvested were not that many. But we were very thankful to have this basket full of them:

Dave put them in freezer bags to be kept in our large freezer (which we had running because I was in the process of canning our two butchered hogs at the time) until I could get around to canning them. Here, we paid Gary a couple carrots to guard them until Dave could put them in the freezer:

Sadly, they thawed just enough in the freezer that they started going bad by the time I could get to them. So our turnips were, instead, enjoyed by our hog, Missy. Maybe next year.......

We also have gotten some great green onions and red onions from our garden, of which I don't currently have pictures. I still haven't gotten used to knowing I can just walk outside over to the garden and pick a bunch of fresh produce to put into our meals. What an amazing blessing for which we are so thankful to God.